This is a little unusual.  I invited Bob Shea to take part in the #mywritingprocess blog tour and he couldn't do it by himself, even though he's all grown up.  So I helped him, because that's what good friends do.  They help.  

Remember, this is going to be Bob talking.  If you don't like it, you might want to think about whether he's the one at fault.  If you do like it, you might want to consider whether you're actually responding to my awesome blogging.

BOB SHEA: Hello.

Melissa was kind enough to invite me to join this blog tour. Then she was like, “You have a blog, right?” and I was like, “Pffft, what kind of idiot do you take me for?”

I don’t have a blog.

I used to have a blog. Now I just mumble in Starbucks. I’ve increased my reach significantly.

Anyway, I tricked Melissa into thinking a bulb was out on my blog and maybe could she post my thing to hers. She fell for it. I doubt she’ll read this before she does, so keep your mouth shut one-person-that’s-reading-this.

So here we go. Just to warn you, it’s 3 a.m. as I write this. Maybe you could wait until then to read it. It’s probably better. And take off your glasses. And have a small window in the corner of your screen streaming Netflix.

What am I currently working on?

I just recently tricked someone into thinking I have a blog. It took most of the week. Tricking people is hard. Sometimes they are listening and not just nodding.


I am also working on an early reader series called BALLET CAT. It’s about a Cat who, get this — loves ballet. It’s all she thinks about. Ballet, ballet, ballet. It’s my first attempt at an early reader so I am pretty excited about it. That should pass though.

Also, I am finishing up a book written by a very funny author named Jory John. It’s very bold and graphic. The excitement for that one is not going away anytime soon.

There’s always a bunch of other things going on which sound great but are just things. A lot of my time is spent working on pitches or treatments or dummies which never go anywhere. It sounds impressive though and I always have something to say when my Dad calls.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Depends. Are you talking about the people I rip off? My work looks like they did it, but they had the flu really bad.

Other people, not sure.
 
My artwork is pretty graphic and bold. I try anyway. My writing is usually pretty absurd because that’s the type of thing I like.
 
 
Why do I write what I write?
 
Mostly to keep myself amused. That helps me judge if a story is working or not. I have a pretty strong sense of what’s funny and what’s forced in my own writing.
 
How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?
 
I get up pretty early, not usually this early, but early, and work on something new. That’s always fun. I’ll sit and work out an idea in my head and write notes on not very special paper with a not very special pen.
 
Then I put that away and work on current projects during the day, always thinking about the other shiny, new thing I am excited about.
 
Then I get coffee and wonder why my studio is a mess.
 
I’ll usually overwrite. Too many jokes or long bits. I cull it down as I sketch the layouts. I used to write television promos. Those thirty second commercials that promote shows on a network. It really taught me to make points concisely.
 
Then I put it all together and make my next runaway smash hit book.
 
Thanks Melissa (as if she read this far) this was fun.
 

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Many thanks to author-illustrator Joyce Wan for inviting me to be part of this cool project!  

Joyce and I met at a kidlit hangout in Brooklyn last year.  She shared stickers from her adorable picture book YOU ARE MY CUPCAKE and Holly and I became instant fans of her sweet, yummy style.  If you can think of it, Joyce has designed it -- wooden cards, stationery, apps, refrigerator magnets, even plushies.  So talented!

 

Now on to the questions...

What am I currently working on?

I'm finishing a private commission this week.  It's an unusual project that involved drawing things I don't usually draw.  Things no one usually draws, in fact.  It has been really fun.

After this, I'm diving into a picture book about a baby hedgehog for Philomel.  A dangerously cute baby hedgehog.  That's all I can really share about it right now.

I'm also in the early stages of writing a biography of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Rita Levy Montalcini, which I plan to illustrate and then sell to some wonderful editor who really loves science...and women...and hair!

And I recently told my agent I'm interested in illustrating someone else's manuscript for a change, so I'm waiting for the offers to start pouring in.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I've been told my work has a certain balance of gentleness and fun.  It also has my name on it.

Why do I write what I write?

That depends on the project.  I wrote BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE and BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA to capture my experiences as a new mom before they got away from me.  I also love drawing baby penguins and the books gave me someplace to put them.

My hedgehog book is an attempt to get my sense of humor into a picture book, something I haven't succeeded at so far.  My sense of humor mostly comes out when I'm defacing Skymall catalogues.

How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

I go through the same steps as other picture book author-illustrators.  I write a story.  I make rough thumbnails.  I develop my characters visually in my sketchbook, where no one can laugh at me, and work on my color palette at the same time, sticking big blotches of color on the studio wall.  It sounds very active and methodical, but the truth is I spend a lot of time at the beginning just thinking.  It's like the log flume ride at Six Flags Great Adventure.  Once I go into the chute, things happen quickly, but it takes me a really long time to get into the chute.

That's me!

Next up on the blog tour...

Jen Corace lives much too far away from me, in Rhode Island.  She has illustrated lots of beautiful picture books including my niece's favorite, LITTLE PEA.  Jen's next project is TELEPHONE, by Mac Barnett. It comes out in September and I'm really excited to see it!

Bob Shea has no trouble making his books funny.  He wrote a book Holly loves called UNICORN THINKS HE'S PRETTY GREAT.  His next book is a collaboration with Lane Smith called KID SHERIFF AND THE TERRIBLE TOADS.  I'm super excited to see that, too.

If you want to see other stops on the tour so far, check out process posts by Mike Curato, Samantha Berger, Carin Berger, Elizabeth Rose StantonBen Clanton, and Jennifer K. Mann, or search for the #mywritingprocess hashtag on Twitter.

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Nelson Mandela and I shared a birthday, so I always felt a special, superstitious connection to him.  (I also share a birthday with Vin Diesel but I have no superstition about that.)

While I hold Mandela in my heart, and am sad about his death yesterday, I don't want to let today go by without observing that it was exactly one year ago that BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! came out, and I became a published author/illustrator. Such an incredible year!

So with respect to my birthday brother: Happy Author-versary to me. And to celebrate, here's a video from the painting of my new book. Share it with the little artists in your life!

x, M.

 

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My December blog tour starts today! Pop over to Nerdy Book Club (where I get nerdy about Roald Dahl), then check in as I waddle along. I'll be visiting established kidslit favorites and sparkly new upstarts; we'll talk about my drawing process, a favorite book, how I got my agent...And of course we'll give away books!

Dec 4 - NERDY BOOK CLUB
Dec 9 - 7 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST
Dec 10 - CYNSATIONS, CREATIVE TIMES
Dec 11 - WRITER'S DIGEST GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS
Dec 15 - PEN & OINK

 

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Big thanks to all who came out to 440 Gallery this weekend.  It was great to read my book in public for the first time (with my trusty studio assistant by my side)!

I also led a workshop to show how I made the book. First we looked at source material.

(Someone asked how penguins sound, so we listened to them, too.)

I shared a handful of the hundreds of sketches I made while inventing the look of the penguins and their world. Even grown illustrators use trial and error!

Next I painted a penguin to show how easy it is if you're like me and don't worry about staying in the lines. (As you can see, I was passion in motion, never still long enough for a clear photo):

Finally we turned the kids loose on the art supplies!

At this age, process is more important than product. That said, the results were nothing short of spectacular!

What a great day.  Kids, go make your own books!

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This Sunday is the last day of the "Mice to Monsters" show, and I'll be teaching how I draw and paint penguins. The child who masters my technique gets to illustrate the sequel to BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE!!

Snacks will be served.  The air-conditioning will be on.  And the magic hat will be in attendance...

Sunday, July 22 4:40 pm 440 Gallery 440 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn

(Stick around for workshops with Bill Zeman and Mariko Suzuki-Bertocci! Or cross the street to Patisserie Colson for ice cream!)

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A very nice editor recently sent me a manuscript in need of illustration. Although I'm not going to be working on the book, I like the sketches I came up with. Here are a few: page 1 page 2_3 page 4_5 page 6_7

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peacock

A commission in progress.

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Tonight I'm not just going to show you a picture, I'm going to tell you a story. A cautionary tale.

About six months ago I started to make a picture book. I had in mind the story of how two single parents met and fell in love (like the Brady Bunch, if Robert Reed and Florence Henderson were flightless birds). I thought the father should tell the story over the course of an evening, as the family made and ate dinner; as he's a "dad" the others would have to chime in to correct his memory and add embellishments. At the end they'd all leave for a walk before bed, feeling connected, imaginations exercised, to enjoy the pleasures of a night ramble. Good. Fine. Sounded like it could become a book.

I played around, making thumbnails and experimenting with how to handle a story taking place in two time periods with multiple voices. Eventually I had a serviceable rough dummy:

dummy front dummy 2 dummy 3 dummy 4 dummy 5 dummy 6 dummy 7 dummy 8 dummy 9 dummy 10 dummy 11 dummy 12 dummy 13 dummy 14 dummy 15 dummy 16 dummy 17

It felt good to have finished my first dummy, but there were problems. The flashback scenes I'd chosen to illustrate were boring, and the tone felt smarmy. (How many "blended families" like each other?) The book screeched to a halt at the end. Most importantly (and key to the other problems), there were no words. I had just drawn thirty-two pages thinking "now this will happen." I started trying to add text to the existing pictures. You know, write something that might fit and wedge it in with a crowbar. I quickly realized this wouldn't work either.

So with trepidation, I put the dummy aside and began making notes on the book I had half-imagined. I tried to put into words the story that played out wordlessly in my mind. I tried to include the funny sort of details I like, and to imagine scenes of real action that would make for lively illustrations. Some of my notes:

notes 1 notes 2 notes 3 notes 4

And so on. The more I wrote, the more I fell in love with what I was now imagining. But it didn't fit into the structure I'd previously envisioned. I started groping for what to discard, what to keep. Cutting and pasting. That's when things really stopped making sense.

As of today, here is what I've got to show for my best efforts over six months:

thumbnails

My favorite part is the two blank pages at the end. If I keep working for a few more weeks, the book will probably have amassed enough negative energy to collapse into a black hole. If I'm lucky, it will take me with it.

In all seriousness, I don't know if this thing is going to come together or not. One minute I think I'll pull it off; the next, I suspect my struggles indicate that there isn't a 32-page picture book here at all. Maybe a chapter book, maybe nothing. And here's the caution at the heart of my tale: don't start illustrating a book without a story. You'll drive yourself insane.

I know today's post is not in keeping with my promise of a new picture a week. This blog isn't called 52 Excuses. But when I looked at the clock this afternoon and considered my options, they seemed to be 1) dig out an old picture and post it, or 2) share some of what I'm grappling with as I try to evolve into a book artist. I thought the latter might be more interesting.

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